Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) as COVID-19 Risks Management Tool

By Bimal Ghimire

COVID-19 Pandemic has brought a new set of challenges and risks while managing projects in the recent time. Even though identifying and managing risks through risk management framework has been a norm among project management practitioners around the world, it will be difficult to find evidence of any project which could have anticipated and managed risk of this nature and level before this Pandemic. As a result, implementation of on-going projects has been affected and these needed changing some or all areas of project management e.g. scope/quality, time/schedule and/or cost/resources.

The Triple Constraint Triangle from Project D Pro

While many projects are already adopted as per the new normal, there is still a risk of COVID-19 and will continue to be so for up to several months or years in future despite the discovery of vaccine recently as it might take a long time to reach all the population of this world. Every project management requires at least some level of engagement within the project team and with stakeholders (including end beneficiaries) to plan and deliver its work effectively. Along with the Pandemic and restriction in movement, there has been increasing use of virtual/online means for communication, collaboration and even virtual visit which has contributed a lot in managing project. However, it is very difficult if not impossible to manage all the work virtually especially in development sector because many of the projects are implemented in remote and/or least developed areas. Therefore, to be able to continue projects to reach the people and communities in need, it is beneficial to develop and apply SOP which helps in managing the project risks.

While many projects are already adopted as per the new normal, there is still a risk of COVID-19 and will continue to be so for up to several months or years in future despite the discovery of vaccine recently as it might take a long time to reach all the population of this world. Every project management requires at least some level of engagement within the project team and with stakeholders (including end beneficiaries) to plan and deliver its work effectively. Along with the Pandemic and restriction in movement, there has been increasing use of virtual/online means for communication, collaboration and even virtual visit which has contributed a lot in managing project. However, it is very difficult if not impossible to manage all the work virtually especially in development sector because many of the projects are implemented in remote and/or least developed areas. Therefore, to be able to continue projects to reach the people and communities in need, it is beneficial to develop and apply SOP which helps in managing the project risks.

The US Environmental Protection Agency defines SOP as a document that provides set of instruction for a routine or repetitive work carried out by an organization. It further states SOP could be specific to the nature and need of an organization and it can help organization to maintain and ensure quality of process and to comply with organization as well as government regulation. With reference to this definition, SOP can be an important vehicle to mitigate COVID-19 related risks in a project. Even though SOP is generally applied in an organization with repetitive nature of work e.g. medical, it can also be adopted and applied in development projects because project also involves operation and administrative work and often there are similar set of activities in a project such as orientation and training.

Now the question is how to develop and apply SOP for a project to mitigate COVID-19 related risk to ensure health and safety of project team and stakeholders? Generally, a project in development sector delivers work in one or more of the following areas:

a. Office operation (desk-based work)
b. Meeting with stakeholders
c. Field visit and monitoring
d. Orientation and training
e. Construction activities

To take an example, if a project delivers its activities via desk-based work, then it can begin SOP development process by assessing and identifying risks related to COVID-19 while working in the office. After identifying risks, it should prepare mitigation measures considering the health and safety guideline of the organization, government and WHO as relevant and these measures can be implemented via standard operating procedures (SOP). Now, you might think why not COVID-19 related risks is simply mitigated through risk mitigation plan as before; but the advantage of SOP is that it helps to maintain and ensure quality of process and operation more systematically and effectively which is critical considering the current Pandemic. Once it is ready, the SOP should be communicated to the project team properly so that they understand and follow it thoroughly.

To make SOP for office operation more effective, some guiding questions might help for example: if SOP is easily accessible to read and easy to understand, if hygiene kit (mask, gloves, sanitizer, soap and water etc.) is available in office, if office/work space cleaned on regular intervals, if work space is arranged to maintain social distance, if work from home should be considered/continued, and if transportation should be organized for staff who depend on public transportation etc. Similarly, it is also important to consider how the suspected and infected staffs are handled, how the vulnerable staffs are taken care of, and how the COVID-19 related cost (for prevention and treatment) is covered. As the Pandemic is unfolding slowly and still unpredictable it is necessary to constantly review and update SOP on a regular interval such as weekly/bi-weekly or monthly. It is also important to identify focal person for communicating, monitoring and reporting of SOP implementation and escalating any risks or issues (including safeguarding) to appropriate level. If the project works with partner, it is also necessary to ensure the partner adopts similar approach to minimize risk throughout the entire delivery chain. Finally, the project should have functional grievance handling mechanism to ensure accountability and transparency in its work. The same approach can be taken to develop and apply SOP for other areas as mentioned above if needed.

Project Risk Identification and Management Post-Covid-19

This is the third in a series of articles looking
at the effects of Covid-19 on project management in the development and
humanitarian sectors. For the second article in the series, visit:

Schedule and Time Management Post-Covid-19

Identification and management of risk is
intrinsic and non-negotiable in project management, and certainly one area that
will be irrevocably changed by the current health crisis. I believe we will
change not the way in which risk is identified and assessed, but rather our relationship with risk.

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Do Our Projects Have Permission to Fail?

This post has been originally published at the DPro Blog
hosted by PM4NGOs training partner Pyramid Learning

At a recent conference, Robert Jenkins, an assistant administrator at USAID, was quoted saying, “There are a few things maybe that we don’t do very well. One of them is admitting something isn’t working, and two, acting and moving at the speed of relevance.”

Jenkins’ quote reminded me of a recent conversation I had with course participants at a recent PMD Pro workshop. They were talking about how valuable it was to have opportunities to practice with the project management tools.  One person, in particular, said he especially appreciated the workshop’s learning games, because they gave him ‘permission to fail’.

Note – readers who have attended workshops I facilitate, know that I like using games in training. Participants make bridges out of straws, build spaghetti towers, make paper aeroplanes, design pyramids etc. Here are a couple of pictures from recent events. We have all kinds of fun playing games &, of course, they are all linked to different learning objectives.

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